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We use ad-blockers as well, you know. We gotta keep those servers running though. Did you know that we publish useful books and run friendly conferences — crafted for pros like yourself? E.g. upcoming SmashingConf San Francisco, dedicated to smart front-end techniques and design patterns.

A Never-Ending Story On Ad-Blockers

Desperate times call for desperate measures. In attempts to fight back against the growing adoption of ad-blockers, many publishers and ad-dependent websites adopt all kinds of techniques from introducing “light” paywalls to limiting access to the site to fully blocking ad-blocker users from accessing the content altogether.

It seems a bit ironic that a website would send away potential customers that are taking measures to actually access the site faster, and read the content published on the site without annoying distractions. Don’t get me wrong: publishers need to earn money, and in most cases advertising is still the most efficient way of doing this. We know it better than anybody: with our smart tech-savvy audience, the ad-blocker usage has grown from 12% in 2012 to 55% today (as of March 2016). That’s a huge growth, and it’s a tendency that hurts us massively.

The vast minority of our readers doesn't use ad-blockers.1
Only 25% of our readership do not use ad-blockers. Source.2

But here at Smashing Magazine, we understand why people like yourself are using ad-blockers. And the reasons are obvious: speed, performance, privacy, security, a distraction-free reading experience. In fact, some readers might feel offended by the sheer number of ads on this very page. We get that. Although we’re trying to make sure that our display advertising isn’t obtrusive — you hardly find any annoyingly disturbing and animated ads anywhere on the site — we do understand why ad-blockers are so popular, and we understand that they aren’t going anywhere. It’s not your fault though, it’s our problem; and it’s a problem that we, and many other publishers, have to solve if we want to stay relevant.

How Do You Deal With Ad-Blockers? Link

Well, as a website owner, you have a few options to choose from, and your choice will definitely depend on the loyalty of your readership and the impact that advertising has on your revenue stream. You could:

  • detect ad-blocker users and force them to either unblock the site or get a subscription, or buy a product,
  • introduce a paywall, effectively blocking content from social media altogether,
  • limit the number of “free” page impressions on your site,
  • ask users for a regular monthly donation in exchange for an “ad-free” experience,
  • use affiliate links to earn on purchases made by your users,
  • publish sponsored content to close the gap caused by ad-blockers,
  • create and prominently highlight your services and products to encourage visitors to support the site and enjoy the ad-free experience.

All of these options have upsides and downsides, so let’s take a closer look at them, and figure out what could be working for you.

Blocking Ad-Blocker Users Link

If you have serious issues with ad-blockers, it might seem tempting to jump to the tough decision to block users who don’t see the ads on your site. That means that you would display a page prompting users to whitelist the site in ad-blocker settings, or purchase a subscription. In fact, the NY Times3, Washington Post4, Wired5, Bild.de6, and a few others are now blocking ad-blocker users from accessing the site altogether.

The main idea behind this approach is a dangerous one: in many cases, site owners consider ad-blocker users not to be important or valuable. After all, these users benefit from the website and use its bandwidth without giving something in return. That’s not entirely true. Indeed, the user might not be giving something back on that particular visit, but over time they build trust, loyalty and community that is extremely valuable. These are the people that are most likely to purchase your products if you offer valuable products to them. They aren’t “freeloaders”; they are your most precious assets.

Yet in my experience from working with large publishers, (fortunately or unfortunately) blocking ad-blocker users works fairly well. Depending on the nature of a website, you are very likely to lose a large portion of overall traffic (often around 30–40%), but you will gain advertising traffic that you didn’t have before, and that you can monetize, and consequently your revenue will increase. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to remain high long-term though since you are losing traffic after all, but it’s certainly a quick and relatively easy win.

However, by effectively blocking a major segment of your users, you potentially alienate loyal readers who actually care about your brand. So if you also offer products and services, you are likely to lose (many) potential customers. Frankly, nobody wants to buy a product in a shop where they seem to be unwelcome and disrespected.

Another problem is the actual detection and blocking of ad-blocker-users. Because ad-blocker extensions are installed in the browser and act as filters or proxy engines, they can block pretty much every script running on the page, and this includes scripts detecting other scripts that block advertising scripts on the site. In fact, there are tools like Anti AdBlock Killer7 which block scripts blocking ad-blocking extensions.

It might be a matter of days now until major ad-blocking extensions implement scripts like that one within the extensions — it’s already possible with uBlock8, for example. In fact, native ad-blocking9 might become a major new breed of ad-blocking applications. In this fight, ad-blocking tools seem to have the upper hand — it takes a silent update of the filter list for a website ad-block detection script to be blocked.

Twitter Poll on Ad Blocking Options10
The overwhelming majority would rather abandon a (news) site rather than unblock it, or pay for it. Source.11

At this moment, we’re running a little poll on Twitter12 to understand what our (tech-savvy) audience would do once blocked from access to a site. The results are quite clear: a vast majority would switch to another (freely accessible) website (72%) while a good number of people would unblock the site (23%) and only few would actually purchase a subscription (5%). Again, depending on the nature and uniqueness of your site, you’re likely to lose a major portion of your readership. It’s a tough risk to take, especially considering that ad-blocker usage is on the rise.

Introducing a Paywall Link

An even tougher approach is to put on a paywall for the entire site, blocking both ad-blocker users and pretty much everybody else (except Googlebot, potentially) from accessing the site. This way, you are forcing users to purchase a subscription to access the site, and you make your website both exclusive and, well, invisible.

With a paywall, the presence of articles published on the site in social media will be extremely limited since readers will know that most of their followers or friends won’t be able to read the article — just because they don’t have access to the site. (The same holds true for ad-blocker blocking websites, too, by the way.) One way to deal with this issue is by allowing paying customers to share articles by using their unique public ID, so public tweets with a link will be visible, but direct links without a public ID will not, as done by DeCorrespondent.nl13 (via Vasilis van Gemert).

The conversion for the paywall subscription might be low, very low, or extremely low, but depending on the price and the unique nature of your content, it might be worth it. One way or another, it might be difficult to attract new subscribers, unless you leave an “open door” to newcomers — providing access to 10–20 articles on the site for free, every month. In fact, the latter is probably necessary to “soften” the tough impact of content blocking and attract interest to your website.

Asking For Regular Donation Link

By using ad-blockers, users clearly state that they want to access your site, but don’t want to see the ads. Well, you could just listen to them, and ask for a regular donation in return for not seeing any ads. You don’t have to block them from accessing the site, but you could make it very clear that the site can’t exist without donations.

Personally, I don’t think that it’s a viable option. We’ve seen that services like Flattr14 that encourage readers to support creators making the web, never took off in terms of wide adoption, and it’s true for donations in general. In my experience, donations are often perceived to be a one-way conversation where you donate money to a service without getting something in return. Well, you do get an ad-free experience (and probably a clear conscience), but it’s not tangible, and as such not sustainable for regular, ongoing, recurring, long-term revenue stream.

Users might donate once or twice, and perhaps for six months or so, but because they don’t get much in return, it’s unlikely they’ll stick to it. After all, they were getting the content for free in the past, so there is nothing extra added on top of the previous experience, except for the fact that they are supposed to pay now. A service or a product that interests your readers is more likely to remain sustainable than a donation alone would be.

If you don’t want to force users into subscriptions, yet you suffer a lot from decreasing advertising revenue, you could consider reinventing the way advertising is presented on your site. You might think about hard-coding some ads on the page and playing with common ad sizes to make them slightly more difficult to detect by ad-blockers. You might also publish articles with affiliate links, earning money by getting a cut from products sales that might be of value to your users. There is nothing wrong about it as long as you are honest about it and do provide unbiased, trusted recommendation to genuinely valuable products.

You could also publish sponsored content that would appear in the regular stream of articles, but should clearly be highlighted as a “sponsored” article — otherwise, the trust you’ve built with your readers over the years will be gone in a blink of a few suspiciously one-sided posts.

However, the need to earn money will have a heavy impact on your editorial work since at some point you might be unwilling to publish an article criticizing the company that just purchased a few sponsored posts on your site. The objectivity of your editorial work suffers, and even years later, you’re quite unlikely to take a strong stand against this very company or their products. As a journalist, it’s limiting, and it’s dangerous.

Prominently Highlight Your Products Link

So if you can’t (or don’t want to) rely on advertising alone, you’ve got to create services or products that would bring you the revenue you need to maintain the site. There is no other way. It doesn’t have to mean extra work though. You could bundle articles from your site, edit them, add some imagery and produce an eBook. Or release a bundle of icons, or add nifty features to your site that would make it attractive to pay for a weekly subscription. It’s more than a mere donation because the reader is getting something in return for their payment.

Twitter Poll on Ad Blocking Options15
We display a friendly notification to ad-blocker users who read our articles. Large view.

Then you can (try to) detect if users are using ad-blockers and push your products a bit more prominently. The downside is that you don’t know if you’ll gain a good enough traction to cover your expenses, so in the beginning, you’re likely to have both the advertising and your own prominent product highlights — and then you iterate, to figure out what actually appeals to your users. In fact, you could just ask them, and pivot your strategy based on the feedback you receive. It’s way better than pushing advertising over the edge or forcing readers to purchase a subscription that they don’t need.

The Smashing Strategy: Products + Membership Link

The way we decided to approach the issue is by prominently highlighting our products once we know that a user is using an ad-blocker. You might have noticed a little friendly box appearing on the top of the page, with links to a variety of our products. Basically, we’ve customized Christian Heilmann’s AdBlock-Honeypot-detection script16 to our needs, and so for every user, we display this box for a good number of visits (10–15 visits) and then it disappears for a few weeks. It’s simple, yet it’s been efficient so far.

We don’t think that this will be enough, though. We have many internal conversations on how to close the gap that we have with advertising revenue, and we think about highlighting existing products — books17, eBooks18, job board19, conferences and workshops20 — as well as produce brand new products, new services and a membership for readers of the site.

However, we firmly stand behind our decision to keep the content of the site accessible no matter what happens. Fullstop. We have to reinvent our monetization strategy, and we believe that we are on a good path there. We’re still collecting data, and we’re still considering options, and we will present our thoughts and findings in future posts.

Summary Link

I strongly believe that blocking loyal readership isn’t a reasonable option for any website. Relying on donations for an “ad-free experience” is unlikely to work either. As publishers, we all have to figure out a way to initiate an honest, direct conversation with our readers and find a respectful and profitable way of dealing with the ad revenue gap. It’s perfectly fine and necessary to earn money, and it’s important to respect the work that goes into producing and distributing good content. Quality content is expensive21 and time-consuming, and we shouldn’t pretend that readers don’t care, or don’t appreciate the work that goes into publishing. I sincerely believe that this isn’t true.

For ad-blocker users, you could potentially restrict access to the entire content, or provide a little extra service that would justify a subscription or a series of quality products that deliver value to your readers.

Fighting against ad-blocking extensions is a fight against windmills. Ad-blockers have the upper hand, and while advertising will evolve, and it will become less disturbing and annoying, it remains to see if the trust users lost in traditional display advertising can be regained. We sincerely hope so, but we can’t be certain.

I do know one other thing for sure, though. Over the years, I’ve been following a simple principle: “always under-promise, and always over-deliver.” You make a lasting impression, you make it clear that people you are working with matter, and you do the best you can to deliver quality work to your clients. It has worked very well for me. Instead of sending people away from your site, be welcoming and understanding, be respectful, honest and delightful, and who knows, maybe you’ll win a loyal, engaged and respectful audience that will be willing to pay for your products way more than you expected them to pay in the first place.

(vf)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 https://twitter.com/smashingmag/status/695910337913167873
  2. 2 https://twitter.com/smashingmag/status/695910337913167873
  3. 3 http://www.nytimes.com/
  4. 4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  5. 5 http://www.wired.com/
  6. 6 http://www.bild.de/
  7. 7 http://reek.github.io/anti-adblock-killer/
  8. 8 https://twitter.com/helloanselm/status/708186548118814724
  9. 9 http://adage.com/article/digital/opera-debuts-browser-native-ad-blocking-technology/303052/
  10. 10 https://twitter.com/smashingmag/status/707854480956657664
  11. 11 https://twitter.com/smashingmag/status/707854480956657664
  12. 12 https://twitter.com/smashingmag/status/707854480956657664
  13. 13 https://decorrespondent.nl
  14. 14 https://flattr.com/
  15. 15 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/
  16. 16 https://www.christianheilmann.com/2015/12/25/detecting-adblock-without-an-extra-http-overhead/
  17. 17 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/books/
  18. 18 https://shop.smashingmagazine.com/products/the-smashing-library
  19. 19 http://jobs.smashingmagazine.com/
  20. 20 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/smashing-workshops/
  21. 21 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/09/good-content-is-too-valuable-to-die/

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, webinars and loves solving complex UX, front-end and performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    Jason Houston

    March 11, 2016 2:44 pm

    What about Native Advertising? How does an Ad-blocker know if your content is an ad and is not? I would think keeping this updated to “trick” Ad-blockers would be beneficial. Although, people can always just use the “Reader” button to get to the content without using an Ad-blocker.

    Great article Vitaly. Your site has been my browser’s homepage for years. No Adblockers here. You have always had great reading material so I am happy to click on your ads and buy your products. Thank you…

    2
  2. 2

    Ivan Brezak Brkan

    March 11, 2016 2:59 pm

    While I agree with most of your post, we do have to keep in mind that specifically changing formats, such as in the case of sponsored post, is still the same monetization strategy (business model). Sorry to nickpick, but I’m growing increasingly frustrated with people outside media saying how the media needs to change its business model, while talking JUST about banners. Banners aren’t the only part of the ad-supported business model :) Especially when they are subtle, well targeted and make sense, such as in the case of SM!

    7
    • 3

      Vitaly Friedman

      March 11, 2016 3:01 pm

      Good point, Ivan! I’d definitely argue for a more diversified revenue stream which isn’t based on advertising alone, and I absolutely agree with your point. Sponsored content is another form of display advertising — it’s just it’s difficult to block. Would love to see more stable revenue streams coming from selling products, goods and services though.

      4
    • 4

      “Subtle” is NOT what I’d take this nearly fully loaded ad sidebar for … and the show-blocker between “replies” and the actual comment section.

      If you REALLY want to know about “subtle”, try design-tagebuch.de. That has always been MY favorite when it comes to “subtle”, unobtrusive ads. Two small logos at the top of the sidebar, also small, quadratic “suggesions”, and then just two of them and NOT blarring whooping 8 – 10 banners, in the sidebar, plus a few “Links”, which often are quite interesting, because .. they are very specific to my line of work. Still not blarring, jumping in your face.

      The only one thats a tad wee bit more obnoxious, is the one ad displayed right before the comment section. It’s also one using either a supercookie or based upon the Google tracking system, as it clearly shows VERY customized ads (eg. pizza.de, which supplies online ordering options for – guess what – pizza and similar delivery services; and which I’ve just recently used).

      That’s also the only one I’m blocking, because trackers and supercookies are a total no-go (instant blacklisting in my case, including the company behind) ;)

      @Vitaly Friedman: So, yes, you still could learn a bit about unobtrusive and subtle ads, just by taking a look how Achim Schaffrina of dt does it ;)

      cu, w0lf.

      -3
  3. 5

    The problem with advertising on 90 percent of sites is that the people who run the site exercise no control over the ads. So off we go on a race to the bottom where third-party ad networks show deceptive or malicious advertising that tricks people into clicking, or outright exploits and infects their computer. And if the ads are slow or disrupt your ability to actually *read* the site? It’s just a cost of doing business.

    This state of affairs isn’t any better for a legitimate advertiser than it is for the visitor to the site, either. The current system of ad networks makes advertisers a cash cow to be milked just to the point before they give up because there is no ROI. Sites are getting revenue by unknowingly taking their cut of widespread click fraud and other dirty tricks.

    Ad blockers are just the end user applying the only bandage they have to an injury that goes much deeper and wider than that, one that they can’t heal by themselves. We need to heal the whole user-publisher-advertiser system before this will be fixed.

    37
  4. 7

    Great article Vitaly.

    For me it’s not advertisements themselves which are the biggest problem, but the tracking involved with them. A few ads here or there are not the problem as long as they’re not blinking or blocking the content. The problem is the dozens or hundreds of advertisement platforms tracking each and every website I visit and building personal profiles of me. It would be like shops in the real world would put bracelets on you and tracking you in each and every store you visit next. Everybody agrees that such a thing would be ridiculous, illigal and creepy. But on the web it’s normal.

    32
  5. 8

    How about just stop using 3rd party embed/scripts/iframes and use an API that doesn’t track people, but allows for opt-in personalisation, which is increasingly common. Why not embrace that and take on the extra processing cost in exchange for giving people the privacy they want from being tracked while retaining the same valuable metrics, but with more control over segmentation and customer-engagement opportunities?

    Relying on 3rd parties is a bad idea at the best of times, especially with how invasive they are these days.

    13
    • 9

      Halting use of 3rd party ad networks is also a deal-breaker for many sites because the 3rd party networks secure the most lucrative deals with large advertisers, and consequently pay much, much better than direct ad sales do. Plus, many sites simply don’t have their own local ad sales staff, so how are they going to track down and entice enough advertisers to fill their ad inventory? That’s what the 3rd party networks are good at and what they’re for.

      3
  6. 10

    I like how you say it is a problem of the site, because it is, advertiser where so free to do anything they wanted that now they feel like the simple use of ad-block is a war, a war against the readers, is funny that they are so scared of the idea of no using smart-ads anymore, like if that idea was so extreme.

    When i was younger and i wanted to buy a magazine i would first try to look at it to see if it was good enough, i would look a couple of pages and if i liked it i would buy one that was sealed, in the case that all of then where sealed i would try another magazine, in the actuality i do something similar, my first visit is always with ad-block, after i read 2/3 articles i decided if i keep visiting that Website or no, i see the quality, the amount of add per page and the general feeling i get from that site.

    The thing is that If the owner of the place did not permit to read anything before buying, i would just go to another place.

    The times are changing, so instead of trying to fight it we should be trying to adapt and evolve, each day become harder to survive only using ads, then you either start using Clickbait (one of the reasons i started using ad-block) or search how to diversify your income.

    TL;DR as long you offer a good product, treat well your users and the ads don’t feel so invasive i(and many) will return and disable ad-block, and diversification of income is always good.

    4
    • 11

      “TL;DR as long you offer a good product, treat well your users and the ads don’t feel so invasive i(and many) will return and disable ad-block, and diversification of income is always good.”

      Because that is a myth. People rarely disable an ad-blocker, even if they love a site, just because they’re politely asked to do so, or because they want to support the site. A handful of people will — a small percentage — but the vast majority of visitors simply won’t do it. They need to be incentivized to do it, forced to do it somehow, or the site needs to do as this article suggests and supplement lost ad revenue through other streams.

      0
    • 12

      Wendy Cockcroft

      March 11, 2016 9:29 pm

      I agree. Wired won’t let me use their site even when I’ve “allowed all this page.” I’m more inclined to support those websites that let me read their content without calling me a freeloader for not paying at the door first, kind of thing. The tollbooth approach is the wrong one. Letting readers contribute for extra value is the better way to go.

      3
  7. 13

    Anybody watch the recent South Park episode about the unstoppable ads?

    2
  8. 15

    Wired is the perfect example of a site where they just don’t handle things well.

    Whenever I go to wired.com, the ads take a very long time to load. The result is that for about 5-15 seconds, the ads keep taking up new space, which repositions all the blocks on the page constantly, and the page is only “still” until all the ads have been loaded. I don’t mind the ads themselves, but I do mind how they reshuffle the page for a while.

    Thing is, wired.com might not even need ads that much. Some of their best articles are available for free on the website. That’s nice, but by doing that, they’re stealing from themselves doing that; it’s potentially taking away sales from the magazine (why buy the mag if the great articles are available for free online?), and they shouldn’t have to compensate those losses by adding ads. They should reconsider their model. Perhaps only use article teasers on the site, and let people buy the mag (or use a paywall) to read the entire article.

    That sounds like a flawed model as well, but Wired IS one of the few publications where the articles are so good and so interesting (with a consistent level of quality), that people WILL pay to read quality stuff. I know I would.

    As long as they use a model that can be “hacked”, they’ll always be one step behind the user.

    Unless, of course, this is all an elaborate ploy, and they only add ads to their site to make that reading experience so annoying, that people will turn to the magazine again…

    9
    • 16

      Wired’s extortion model has p**** me off so much that I have deleted all of my bookmarks and even deleted every link and reference to wired articles in my blogs and websites, there were many. I hope others follow suit to send them a message that it’s an absurd and hopefully unsustainable practice.

      7
      • 17

        I have a WIRED magazine subscription for one reason. I appreciate the work they do. You should try it – supporting things you like.

        0
        • 18

          I would get a subscription if it wouldn’t be so darn expensive in Canada, compared to the US. I’m sure it’s out of their hands, but whereas the US can get 6 issues for $5, I would have to pay $40 for 12 issues. Not steep by itself, but I’ll stick with buying them every now and then in the shops.

          0
    • 19

      Wait. Wired tries to block me if I have an adblocker on? I haven’t seen that. I guess my adblocker works ¯_(ツ)_/¯

      3
  9. 20

    This is one of the most thoughtful articles on the topic I have ever read, culminating in the sentence “I strongly believe that blocking loyal readership isn’t a reasonable option for any website.”

    Want real-life proof in the data? Here we go: Bild.de was a ‘pioneer’ in locking out users. Here’s Bild.de’s traffic (as measured on Alexa.com) – guess when they started blocking their loyal readership?

    Source: http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/bild.de

    5
    • 21

      I believe you’re oversimplifying your assumption with the drop in traffic for Bild.de. I do agree with your assessment on how their actions are likely affecting readership, but there is a much bigger reason for the drop. German publishers, including Bild.de, sued Google for including snippets of their news in search results. These publishers claimed copyright infringement for using snippets and demanded Google pay licensing fees to display article snippets. Google refused to pay and responded by removing all snippets. Without the snippets, articles from German publishers, like Bild.de and Bunte.de, tanked in search results. This coincides with the drop for the time period referenced in Alexa.

      0
  10. 22

    “[…] blocking both ad-blocker users and pretty much everybody else (except Googlebot, potentially) from accessing the site.”

    That gives me an idea for extension that changes useragent for sites that have paywall, just like ad-block with autoupdating filter lists. :D

    2
    • 23

      I personally think that paywall is even worse option than ads. It’s very agressive move and it denies user to determine the value of content they would get for their money. Alot of articles can be just clickbait without any value and I would never risk to sponsor such things. But there are (very few) cases where it’s appropriate, but then the source is usually already established as trustworthy and offers real undeniable value to their specific userbase. Those sites had paywalls already for years.

      2
  11. 24

    Carlos Escribano Rey

    March 11, 2016 8:06 pm

    Ok, ok, I will disable AdBlocker just for your site. You provide great content for free and your ads doesn’t put my MBP on fire so… why not?

    7
  12. 25

    Matthew Trow

    March 11, 2016 8:39 pm

    It makes me wonder whether there’s a market for some kind of ‘collective’ for websites, whereby a subscription covers multiple sites within a specific genre?

    Perhaps a credit based system could be used, the more you visit, the more you pay?

    A credit provider acts as the middle-man between users and websites.
    The cost could be exceptionally low – it only needs to match the potential revenue derived from advertising, but results in an ad-free experience.

    In an ideal world, the cost could potentially be baked into your ISP monthly bill.

    It sounds horrendously complicated, I admit, but anything is better than the current situation!

    1
    • 26

      Matthew Trow

      March 11, 2016 8:43 pm

      … thinking more on this, the advertising networks themselves could provide that infrastructure, assuming they could agree to work together to create a universal sign-in credit based system.

      The ideal situation is that the end result should be as seamless as possible for both website owners and users.

      1
      • 27

        Matthew Trow

        March 11, 2016 8:45 pm

        … the caveat being that if you block ads and don’t pay, you don’t get the content … hmmm.

        0
  13. 28

    Publishers can sign up for Adblock’s Acceptable Ads program for free. It’s enabled in AdBlock clients by default. The only thing required is to make these ads abide community-made acceptable ad criteria. Everybody wins except annoying ad networks with tracking/popup/autoplay/disguised clickbaits and shady practices. As it should be in the first place.

    3
  14. 29

    Chris Panayotov

    March 11, 2016 10:47 pm

    Interesting discussion. I personally very much like the content of a local site, but it is full with very distracting ads. I end up writing chrome extension that visually hides some stuff, re-arrange the layout and makes my experience much better. With my solution ( I”m not worried about the privacy on this particular site ) the site editors get their money from advertisers, I have distraction-free reading and both parties are ok. The “loosers” are advertisers, but I wouldn’t click on ad anyway. I think that in time extensions that use similar methods will be much more common.

    1
  15. 30

    Thanks for this interesting article!

    One more way of fighting with adblock, i think it more applicable for media content. At our websites we use a 30 seconds delay (only for users with adblock).

    http://www.cc.com/video-clips/wln8c8/-midnight-with-chris-hardwick-extended—-midnight-tournament-of-champions—meet-the-finalists

    In this way content is still shareable and may actually force users to watch ad as it’s more interesting than waiting 30 seconds in silence.

    What do you think about it?

    -3
    • 31

      Sorry, but this is the most stupid idea I have read in a whole week (at least)…

      It’s not about how to force users/readers to watch ads, videos or whatever, but how you treat them. It’s a matter of respect.

      Your readers are not your enemy, just because they are p*** by the overwhelming ads they are confronted with all day long.

      As Vitaly already pointed out, there are a couple of options for your revenue model out there – but locking out readers deliberately is one of the worst.

      3
      • 32

        Is it really though? This website and others like it aren’t free. They cost money to run, cost money to create content, people have to be paid for their time. Who cares if someone is a “reader” if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain? They’re not a customer anymore if they’re consuming the product for free.

        I have no problem with ad blockers, but I also have no problem with websites that use an ad based business model refusing to give away their content for free.

        0
        • 33

          I’ll jump in here – I didn’t go through all the comments so forgive me if I’m repeating what has already been said… I work in the online publishing industry as a designer so my job is typically *at odds* with the business’ monetary goals. However I really don’t think the problem is the ads themselves. The problem is the *abuse* of ads. having 9 ads on a page is ridiculous. Serve a single ad on the page at a premium price and the vast majority of users would be happy.

          Having one higher priced ad means that yes it will be harder to sell, but ultimately you only need to sell one positions vs having to sell 9+ cheap positions. Less ads means faster and less distracting pages (happy users), less competing ads one the page (happy advertisers) and less selling (happy sales). You just need to bump up the price.

          – My 2 cents.

          5
  16. 34

    Once trust is broken it is very hard to fix.

    I use an adblocker and whitelist very few sites e.g. stackoverflow, player.arsenal.com; I white player arsenal because the content is that valuable to me and I whitelist stackoverflow because they instilled a trust in me from the very beginning.

    Ads on smashing magazine have been so bad. Performance of the site is/was one of the worst due to ads. Adblocking fixes this. I’m unlikely to every whitelist smashing magazine because the damage has probably already been done.

    This page, example, without my adblocking has 77 reqs, 445.95 KB, ~3.95s no-cache. With my ad blocking? 32 reqs, 320 KB ~2.07s.

    1
  17. 36

    Fighting against ad-blocking extensions is a fight against windmills.

    If it just were that simple, fortunately. I do use ad-blockers, turned on by default, and for every site. I don’t mind ads either, on the other hand.

    But I do care about my web experience. And for ads it has been bad (numerous times) – Flash being used more than often to actively grab my attention. I’m here (and you could let that be as well any other site) for the content. If an ad is 200 times more prominent than what I’m looking for, I’m really in-the-biz for an ad-blocker. If that happens to me on more than 5 sites, even more so. The web experience has taught me these stories all over. So my reaction is clear (because I just can’t flip the page to get rid of it like in good ol’ fashioned magazines).

    However, the ads for Smashing Magazine’s book didn’t disturb me at all. I didn’t even think of using my Adblocker’s feature to block static known content. They probalbly just didn’t scream at me enough.

    So for me there is something besides UX – and I call it AX: Advertising Experience. If it’s well balanced compared to the content I’m looking for, I will not only accept but also consume it and may even reflect it. And by that I’ll be a better reciever – and not the black sheep with an ad-blocker meant to be fighted.

    I’m not blaming Smashing Magazone to put lite ads on me by using the ad-blcoker. I’m blaming the majority of content providers to not care about the content-ad ratio balance to no tgive me heart attacks for literally every page visit.

    4
    • 37

      What’s more, so far it’s been a very binary decision: accept (all) ads or don’t at all. It’s been not possible for me to decide on the level of ads I actually do accept. “Acceptable ads” go into this direction, but again, they don’t leave the choice to me, the user. The market would not only evolve but be more effective if there is a better competition including a dynamic level of acceptance (think “responsive ads”).

      2
      • 38

        Totally agreeing with you.

        At the current time, only the more advanced users or experts get the choice of “gradually allowing” ads. You just open the “blockable elements” list / window, and then unblock / disable those blocking rules you like. Maybe also use Element Hiding Helper to first block and then UNblock stuff. But that’s definitely not an acceptable method for regular usage, as its quite tedious and time-consuming work.

        cu, w0lf.

        0
  18. 39

    I would unblock ads if they didn’t assign you an ID that is tracked on every site you visit. Privacy and reading experience matters most to me. The more Apple and the govt fight over it, the more I realize the web is up to no good.

    1
  19. 40

    Vicki Nemeth

    March 12, 2016 4:51 am

    Try “dumb” ads. Curated pictures where the ads would go that look like ads, because that’s what they are. Print publications sell dumb adspace, and they figure out how much to charge using the size and demographics of their readership (those geniuses, how did they ever figure out how to valuate adspace without adtech?!). Dumb ads are a little like affiliate links and sponsored posts, but they don’t interfere with your site editorially. I don’t think adblockers would spot dumb ads since, technically, they would be indistinguishable from pictures on your site; they’re also safe for users’ computers. You know how to make them not so annoying.

    1
    • 41

      That is why I pointed out the design-tagebuch.de site (no, I’m NOT affiliated, thank you very much; just an avid reader) – it’s doing exactly that: Images and links. Nothing fancy, blarring, blinking. Just subtle suggestions that are explicitely announced as ads.

      The only ad-related part that I’m explicitely blocking (see my comment about “gradually allowing” ads from before) is the one commited by Google. Too much “customization” leads to feeling stalked, and thus is a sure case for the big nasty PLONK file.

      cu, w0lf.

      -1
  20. 42

    And yet, you keep serving us malware ads… Just had one hit tonight on another commercial website. Put strict block on its advertising elements. I don’t tolerate sites that serve from shady advertisers. I realize the sites I visit need monetary support and let a lot of advertising through, but I have a one strike rule.

    2
  21. 43

    Alison Morrissey

    March 12, 2016 4:26 pm

    The best strategy for us by far has been blocking the adblockers with a polite request to whitelist.

    We did it as a test, just to see if anyone would actually comply. Turns out we had something like 73% of our visitors whitelist us. Pretty surprising result to say the least. I should say that we have always had very respectful advertising and no pop-ups, popunders or autoplay video.

    The moral of the story is: Treat your users with respect and they *will* whitelist you.

    We also used a very clean, but firm message to ask users. There’s a lot to be said about ‘how’ you ask users to whitelist. FYI we used the free script from BlockAdBlock and we wrote a funny message about our writers eating nothing but ramen noodles.

    Do it right, and it will work. 73% was beyond all our wildest expectations.

    -2
  22. 44

    I work with advertisers, and ultimately I think that advertising will grow to become more native, more sponsored content and less able to be blocked through conventional ad blocking techniques, because publishers have every right to require some form of payment, be it cash or eyeballs, for their content, just like visitors have every right not to visit a site.

    But what visitors don’t have the right to do, IMO, is consume content for free that’s intended to be paid for through advertising. This expectation that, despite annoying ads, one can still consume the content for free needs to be squashed.

    There should be only one choice: are you willing to put up with the ads? If so, then you can have the content. If not, for whatever reasons, then you can’t.

    -4
    • 45

      I’ll put up with the ads, but not with all the tracking that comes with them. Put plain image ads hosted from the native server with plain links to the advertised site that only track the site the link came from and I don’t have a problem.

      6
      • 46

        But if the site doesn’t give you that option — the choice to just view the ads without the tracking — then you’re still out of luck. They’re selling their content, and the what it costs you is your eyeballs + tracking. If you don’t like the price, then you don’t get the content. That’s the way I see it. It’s like any other business arrangement. The content is the product, and the price is what the price is. If you don’t want to view the ads along with the accompanying tracking, then you don’t get the product. I would hope that publishers would value their content enough to prohibit people from consuming their content without paying the asking “price,” which in this case is viewing the ads as they’re displayed, including the accompanying tracking, which is used to target the ads to the appropriate demographic.

        -5
        • 47

          I’m sorry but what kind of bs argument is that? The price is your eyeballs and tracking? So the price for me to read your content (strings of letters that make up words) is my privacy? And you are okay with that?

          So, imagine the following: You are in a different country. You don’t pay your taxes there because you don’t live there. You are merely visiting. To pay for the public spots (and it’s maintenance) you are enjoying, someone is following you around watching your every move. Writing it down, making a complete profile of you. Is that okay with you?

          I’m all for paying for content by watching ads. I feel that ads, just the ads, aren’t that bad at all. What I am strongly against is the tracking that comes with it. I don’t have any other option than to either go away or pay with my privacy. I’d rather just pay with money than to be followed around.

          0
          • 48

            “I’m sorry but what kind of bs argument is that? The price is your eyeballs and tracking? So the price for me to read your content (strings of letters that make up words) is my privacy? And you are okay with that?”

            Yes, I am totally OK with that. People can charge whatever they want for their own product, in this case the content they’ve created. That’s their right. And if you don’t want to pay that price, then don’t. That’s your right. But you don’t then still get access to the product.

            This twisted notion that people should still be able to view content even when they don’t think it’s right that they should have to view the ads, just because they find them annoying or unpalatable for some reason, is rubbish. That’s not the way market-based economies work. You don’t have to pay the price being asked, but if you don’t, you don’t get the product.

            -3
  23. 49

    I think there’s an important detail missing in the discussion:
    While ads on sites are bad in terms of pageload-times, annoyance, blinking and tracking – on desktop devices the problem is more or less a strategical problem.

    On mobile devices otoh, it happens quite A LOT where you simply don’t get to the content of a site. Be it due to misplaced ads because of the smaller screens or – and that happened to me quite some times – if you’re travelling and you don’t have bandwidth (or you have to pay extraordinary amounts of money for roaming-fees), so the page often doesn’t load fully due to the extensive amounts of (ad) data requested.
    This is where ad-blocking seems to be the only way to get out of this misery.

    And as far as discussion on e.g. Wired is concerned: I happily bought a subscription for their magazine, because the content is good and i understand they need money to create this content (btw: I bought stuff from Smashing Magazine in the past for the very same reason – and I’d buy a subscription if there was one).

    4
    • 50

      There is a news site here in the Netherlands, http://www.ad.nl, where they now have these amazingly awesome 3D advertisements.

      Obviously the above is sarcasm and here is why. When scrolling through the website on mobile, you’re swiping your screen and not using a scrollbar. When the ad comes in reach of your swiping, your page will stop scrolling. Why? Because you are now twisting and turning a 3D cube around it’s axis and on each side is the same advertisement.

      Who the hell came up with that?

      1
  24. 51

    First time I saw ads from ecommerce sites I visited on my Facebook wall, it was creepy. The first one felt like a coincidence, then another, and another and so on. Creepy as hell.

    I browse primarily with mobile and my browser recommended blocking ads, from then on, it’s been romeo and juliet. I use ad-blocker, I just turn it on and I don’t know if it has settings to unblock/whitelist certain sites, everything is blocked by the ad-blocker, I’m not concerned about the minutiae details.

    I am sorry for publishers but they got themselves hear, they had a very long rope to pull.

    Malicious, annoying ads with creepy tracking, I’m going to be clearing cookies in all my browsers soon.

    Maciej Ceglowski’s gave a talk recently on Web obesity crisis, so it was coming, and for the sites blocking adblock users, well, Goodluck to them.

    2
  25. 52

    Academic Papers

    March 14, 2016 7:00 am

    This amazing article what i was looking for and good idea here. Thanks for sharing with us.

    0
  26. 53

    It’s unfortunate for the sites that run a resaonable number of ads that aren’t too intrusive – I have no problem with that.
    But when sites (my local newspaper is the worst culprit I have come across) are so stuffed full of ads that the page reflows a dozen times whilst you are trying to read the article on a desktop with a 150MB broadband connection and never loads on mobile, that’s when i install an ad-blocker.

    I’m not really interested in having to setup the ad-blocker on a per-site basis.

    I’m not going to worry about whether that means I don’t see the ads on the sites that use ads responsibly, I won’t even know that I’m “missing out” on those ads.

    If you block me from accessing the site until I turn off the ad-blocker, then your content would have to be pretty compelling and without competition.

    I think the best idea in the previous comments is having some form of non-intrusive “Acceptable Ads” or limiting the ad to content ratio.

    4
  27. 54

    I find it quite disturbing that in the list “How do you deal with ad blockers” there is zero mention of actually FIXING your ads.

    Make ads lightweight. Stop or limit tracking. Ensure they do not contain malware. Make them relevant.

    Not a single word on this, whilst this is the root cause of why so many people use ad blockers.

    7
  28. 55

    Mike (another)

    March 14, 2016 11:32 am

    I’m one of the people who bought one of your books out of support, keep ’em coming. ;)

    You can add Forbes to the list. F* them all, I can also show them back my middle finger by not visiting their website again if they continue with their offensive messages like “Oh we are too lazy to find other ways of advertising and instead we are forcing you to disable the
    ad blockers”.

    There are zillions of ways to promote things, but most of the publishers are too lazy and rely on ad networks to do all the work, well it’s time for a change whether they like it or not.

    4
  29. 56

    Thanks for sharing your research and ideas.
    I feel a little guilty for blocking, but there are problems you wrote about:
    Malware, Tracking, Distraction, Performance

    Everybody is talking about this topic since apple introduced blocking stuff in iOS. It’s good because we can people educate about the downside of blocking, but also inspire to find new ways of monetisation.

    I unblocked Smashing Mag for a while because there are no aggressive, slow ads. So i will do with every other site i visit regularly which uses non distracting and non blocking ads. But i’m also curious about the new ways of the publishers.

    1
  30. 57

    This conversation bugs me.

    Ad Block users have this idea that they are ENTITLED to the content a website produces, without any cost.

    Content production is not free.

    This ENTITLEMENT is seen in the number of people who said they would pay for the content instead – 5%

    I understand the horrors of a site that chucks up ads like Times Square. You know what I do? I don’t come back.

    Simple.

    If a site is only focused on displaying ads, they have no content I want to see. That goes for the immediate “sign up for my email” modal too.

    Absolutely sites need to improve the ad experience, but it does NOT give readers or viewers the right to block their revenue stream and walk away with the content.

    I imagine this comes from people who are not creatives. They don’t know the work involved in producing a product, so they do not value it. And if they are creatives, I’m sure they wouldn’t give THEIR work away for nothing.

    Hey site owners, improve the ad experience!

    Hey ad block users, you’re not getting paid this week. Problem?

    0
    • 58

      Bravo. I wish I could up vote this 1000 times.

      It’s the sense of entitlement. I don’t get where it comes from. If someone charges for something and you don’t like the price, whatever form that price takes, even if it’s burdensome to you or annoying or seems unfair, the only choices you really have are to suck it up and pay for it anyway, steal it, or leave without the product, in this case the content.

      But a lot of people have rationalized to themselves that option B., to steal it, is somehow a fair and reasonable thing to do. It’s absurd.

      1
    • 59

      I think it’s easy to blame the users and all of their “entitlement issues” but think about it this way… precedence has already been set that this content is free for anyone to read. Let’s say, it’s been free for 10 years. Now, all of the sudden a big white modal window pops up that tells you to pay up or leave the site. Wouldn’t you be a little bit miffed?

      I don’t know that it’s entitlement exactly but I think of it as a community that comes to expect a certain thing from a website/publication and then a big change takes place and there is this huge lack of communication on the publisher’s end. I get that things change over time. So, if that is the case, maybe notify the subscribers of the change?

      For new visitors and potential subscribers why not work with a copywriter who has a way with words and is able to finesse some of these new visitors and convert them to new subscribers instead of making them feel like entitled freeloaders?

      I get that business is business and things cost money. I think most people understand that. Still, there is a very human and emotional element here that seems to get lost in the shuffle every time. I always hear — “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” What most people don’t understand is that the relationship between a business and its customers (or in this case the publication and its readers) — is very personal.

      0
  31. 60

    I think it’s really simple. Ad blockers are just separating good content from bad.

    So if all you do is post clickbait list articles with no actual value, you will go down.

    However, if you’re Smashing Mag, with dedicated fans and the highest quality of content, your fans will stand by you. If YOU ask people to whitelist/donate/buy products that is totally different. I would gladly pay a subscription to support something I love, but I won’t even bother disabling Adblock for just another news article that I can find EVERYWHERE else.

    1
  32. 61

    This is a nice story to get the awareness about ad- blockers which helps the SEO.

    0
  33. 62

    An excellent, open minded article on the problem with ad-blockers.

    As a content creator I understand the issue that ad-blocking generates. Some of my content I create for me and I don’t expect to be compensated for it (except of course the satisfaction I feel) and the rest of the content I create is for my clients and I obviously expect to be compensated.

    The issue at hand though (for me at least) is not that I resent ads it’s that I don’t trust third party ad creators that are the standard for nearly all online sites. They are a security risk I can’t take. My computer is my livelihood and I won’t put myself or my clients proprietary information at risk.

    So what do we do?

    I support two of the solutions you’ve suggested and partially a third.

    I find donations work wonders I am willing to pay for content (and in fact I do) but I don’t like being on the hook for a recurring subscription. Each month I evaluate the value of the services I receive and I’ll continue to support (or not) based on that evaluation. I control the service and I also am able to choose a level of remuneration for that value.

    Sponsored Content. This works great. It isn’t a third party delivering risk and honestly some of that content is valuable and worth my time.

    Your third solution is a great way also. Products. I buy and use your products I have quite a few of the Smashing books. I am open to Membership but only as long as it is flexible. I detest the carrot-and-stick pricing model $60 annual or $10 a month. Look pick a price point and don’t try and force me into a yearly contract if $5 a month is your price point then just ask for it.

    Again great article and I appreciate the tone you set, many of the sites I utilize have had similar articles and most of those come off as shaming articles… not very smart on their part.

    1
  34. 63

    The National Geographic website is a great illustration of this article. I religiously follow the photo of the day, but fairly recently has become hell to use. I used to be able to just look at the site but now there is a monthly limit (the script does fail sometimes), always get prompted to buy stuff, or make a free account (which I did but the script to login fails every single time). There appeared to be some effort a few months later to make it less annoying, but I was so angry I got ABP and rarely look back. Until I can buy the digital package (more for the magazine than terrible web content development). The rest of the site makes since, but the photo of the day are amateur photographers that don’t get paid by National Geographic (I could be wrong) and there is only one image size! If they offered multiple images then I would buy it, but I see no value in paying for the web content.

    By the way, I don’t block the ads on the Smashing site because they are useful, fast, and not annoying!

    0
  35. 64

    Vitaly,
    I think that web designers need to think more about how ads work on mobile devices. I use ad-block on my phone because one false tap could send me to an unwanted site and use up some of my data. I can’t tell you how many times that has happened. If advertisements worked more like billboards than roadside vendors, then I wouldn’t have a problem. Why do all ads take you to their website? If I were interested in what your selling I would see your ad, and look up your product online. Furthermore, these anti-adblock procedures like paywalls and subscriptions don’t seem very customer-friendly. Sometimes the website views my employer’s web-filter as an ad-block and I can’t access the site.

    1
  36. 65

    It should be noted that blocking adblockers is illegal in Europe. European Commision are sending out warning letters in past days. Turns out the law existed from 2002.

    0
  37. 66

    Has anyone seen a issue where ad blocker is blocking legitimate content? I work for a college and on our majors/programs it blocks 3 programs and their titles do not contain anything about advertising, ads etc…. Sent a report to Ad Block Plus haven’t received anything back. Any one have suggestions or have seen something similar?

    0
  38. 67

    Interesting article. I recommend publishers start using http://adlatch.com/, a smart tool to monitor adblocker using readers and get lost revenue back via different methods.

    0
  39. 68

    Is it the legal what AdBlockers doing? Who have the legal right to block content from my site? I heard about AdBlocker Blocker – scripts that disable AdBlockers.

    0

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